You Can’t Contract Out Health & Safety Responsibilities


Regular news updates from the HSE give health and safety professionals a growing case history of precedents for unacceptable working practices, resulting in warnings, fines and potentially prison terms.  

There is a very important body of cases looking at the relationship between the employer and the contractor, sending out a clear message that contracting out a job does not mean contracting out your health and safety responsibilities. If an accident happens on your premises you have a 

basic duty to check that contractor is capable, well-informed. monitored and working in safe conditions.

Just looking at the past 6 months, there have been two significant HSE prosecutions involving both the contractor and client. In December 2021 a school and its maintenance contractor being fined after workers disturbed asbestos at the school while installing a new heating system. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the contractor and the school both failed to refer to existing asbestos registers and management plans to identify the presence of asbestos within the school building. Another case in Jan 2022 concerned a contractor and a water management company after a worker was injured when he was hit by a 1.5 tonne water valve. A HSE investigation found that both companies had failed to risk assess the work and the additional hazards introduced by a change in the scope of work. They failed to implement suitable safety measures and safe systems of work; and provide adequate supervision to the workers.

Both cases resulted in fines and costs of over £400K and illustrate the duty of care placed on a company in appointing, communicating and monitoring contractors. Practical ways of fulfilling your regulatory responsibilities include researching your contractor, using risk assessments and permits to work, signing contractors on and off site and sharing health and safety information.

Russell Barnard, SG World Product Manager said: “It’s a real concern for businesses that you could have the very best health and safety measures in place for their own workforce and be left completely vulnerable to the actions of a contractor. If an accident occurs it’s your reputation on the line and the HSE will investigate the way the contractor was being managed."

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